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welcome Gryla Awaits
Iceland Visitor Center 2019

The Black Lava Fields Visitor Center, along with the Volcano Museum and the Thermal Springs Guest House, is one of three proposed projects connected by a common design language intended to provide way-finding for travelers. Referencing the vernacular architecture, lore and geological history of the area, they are intended to feel of the earth, while framing the views of the landscape and natural landmarks. 

These three designs have fractured planes of earth playing off of the balance between an inward comfort center to an outward movement connecting to the landscape, yet each building is a direct response its specific site and intended purpose. This approach can be extended a larger number of structures at additional sites throughout the region visually anchored by the Hverfjall Volcano. 


With this proposal, we wish to celebrate the beauty of Iceland, while honoring its story and myths. 






Dimmuborgir is an important tourist site, welcoming roughly one and a half times as many visitors each year as the entire population of Iceland, whose value lies in its natural beauty and in its significance to Icelandic folklore.  We aimed to design a building, which highlights both of these factors by fusing with the landscape. 


The form of the building takes inspiration form the fracturing of land that has occurred due to the geothermal activity, seemingly pushing new forms up to the surface of the earth. The entry walls, which face the visitor on approach, recall the Dark Castle formation in shape and texture and are meant to reference and illicit the thrill felt by early visitors to the site, where terrible creatures were believed to dwell.   In contrast, the simple interior is open, light and welcoming reflecting Icelandic hospitality and allowing the visitor to focus on the stunning views.    

THE HILL      
Drawing from Icelandic tradition, we chose to create berms along two facades to improve the insulation value while simultaneously concealing a  number of service areas in the interior so that the main spaces remain unobstructed. The higher elevation creates a taller landmark in a relatively flat area to allow for an enhanced perspective of the lava fields.  
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Tinted using local lava rock as an aggregate to harmonize with the existing local pallet, the concrete exterior is cast with alternating textured and polished faces. As one approaches the building from the car lot, the textured surface blends the structure further into the landscape.  Continuing along the path, up to the site, the reflective nature of the smooth face becomes visible and begins to capture the colors of the landscape.  The contrast becomes more intriguing as one nears the entry, luring people inside. 
The tradition of Icelandic turf houses built forms into the landscape, connecting spaces together underneath the earth. This connected different families together, to create a unique type of communal living and shared resources, such as barns. These houses were constructed with layers of turf, commonly in a herringbone pattern. They also could have wood ceiling boards and structure, as well as the use of local rocks. The turf houses of Iceland often were buried into berms, and had one face presenting to the world in a more decorated fashion. The decorated entires would lead into a hall that would commonly have a great fire. The floors would be covered in wood, local stone, or earth. 

By burrowing the Visitor’s Center into the ground, we propose to take advantage of the same naturally efficient principles of the traditional Icelandic turf buildings.  Iceland had a large amount of turf suitable for construction. This style of building not only promoted borrowing into the earth and therefore using thermal mass, but the turf in itself acted as highly efficient insulation from the harsh outdoors, keeping heat in and protecting the building materials.  The traditional technology has additional benefits of lowering impermeable surface area and albeido that have become increasingly important as the effects of our presence on the Earth have been better understood.  In this updated application, geothermal heat, commonly used in Iceland, and is proposed for radiant flooring, radiators and the hot water.  Efficient Insulation and triple pained glass will also minimize energy outlay.
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